Thursday, December 29, 2005

Geographic Existentialism: Prologue

It seems to me that you can measure the innocence of a place by the number of stars you can see there in the night sky. When I see the stars – and not just the really bright ones, but all the little tiny ones that make you feel that you’re looking into a milky cloud of dust – I feel the freedom to live life a litter slower. In Central Kansas, you can really see the stars.

During my college years, I realized and embraced the profound connections I feel toward places. I’ve described to various people that I feel about places – landscapes particularly – the way people feel about other people. I realize that this concept, these feelings toward places, seems awkward to some, and downright silly to others; and yet, I surmise that this attachment to place is universal, felt by, and affecting everyone, everywhere. Unfortunately, in my estimation, too few people take the time to really contemplate the matter. Most people do not sit around late at night, as I am now, delving into the complexities of geographical existentialism. And so I shall, because I believe it matters. Because we cannot escape the places in which we find ourselves, or the places from which we come.

Places become part of who I am. Now, I often define myself by what I do: I am a student. I am an intern. I am a bum in need of a job. Just as often, I describe myself by where I am from, where I have been, or where I am: I am from a little town in Central Kansas. I’ve roadtripped to Alaska and back. I’m now living in Colorado Springs.

Because place is so engrained in who I am, I am always considering its effect on me. Right now, its effect is very pronounced. I admit that I am in a struggle right now, a struggle to reconcile where I am from with where I find myself going – geographically, and in many other respects.

I am from Central Kansas. I have always wanted to leave. Now that I have spent a semester in Colorado, and have made plans to live in Colorado indefinitely, I find myself being drawn to this landscape, to this place, here on the eastern edge of the High Plains. And I want to be able to explain why.

Always having wanted to leave (to “get the hell out of Dodge,” as it were), I am confounded by this peculiar desire within me to absorb and truly understand the strange and quiet and simple beauty that now surrounds me. I have decided that I shall investigate this relationship – between myself and places – beginning with this place I call home, the place I am from.

In forthcoming posts, I am going to explore facets of what I referred to earlier as “geographic existentialism.” I shall expound upon my understanding of my connections to places, as those connections play a part in determining the quality of my existence in and with those places. Though I will talk often of landscape, I will often discuss culture, and it’s effect on me, for each greatly affects the other, and they are nearly inseparable for me, the geographer. I know that probably makes little sense. Perhaps, as I submit my posts, my thoughts will become more lucid and my observations a bit comprehensible.

Meanwhile, do a little exploring of your own.

Another beautiful winter sunset in Central Kansas.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Guns & Roses

So this is what we do in Central Kansas on Christmas Eve. We shoot things. Seriously. Those of you who know me know that I'm more likely to hug a tree than join the NRA, but my cousins convinced me to shoot clay pigeons with them. I know, it confused me too. I checked, and they're not pigeons, so PETA's not going to come knocking on my door. But they are clay. And orange and round.

I've always avoided things like guns. I convinced myself that it just wasn't my "thing". The one time I tried trap shooting - 10 years ago, I think - I didn't hit a thing. So I was a bit apprehensive about trying it yesterday. Apparently, at some point over the past 10 years, I acquired the ability to shoot pretty well. I'm great. I'm not gonna lie. I was good for about two out of every three. Okay, so that's not amazing, but it's definitely better than nothing. There's just something about being able to work a gun. It's empowering. Maybe I'll hone this nascent talent.

I'm actually a gangsta. Did you know that? I'm recruiting a posse. Apply, if you dare.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I didn't realize I am prone to fanaticism.

I know this looks like a nice picture of some friends and I camping in cold weather. But that's not the full story. The complete version of this tale is much more surreal than even I would like to admit.

Have you ever heard the slogan, "Eat More Chikin"? I am now all too familiar.

This past Thursday was an auspicious day for northern Colorado Springs. Not more than one half mile from my apartment, a new Chick-fil-A restaurant opened its doors, and with a bang. And a cow bell, but that comes later.

Chick-fil-A has a little tradition with its grand openings. The first 100 patrons inside the restaurant get one free value meal per week for an entire year. That's worth $249.08. I just calculated it. So that's a lot of money. You can imagine the demand for one of those first 100 spots.

Some friends and I are still here in Colorado Springs, after our semester at Focus on the Family Institute. We decided that we would make ourselves corporate publicity whores for an evening and wait in line. We arrived at 10:15pm. And we waited...

Did I mention it was ridiculously cold? Yeah, it was about 5°F for a low. We tried sitting outside in chairs, bundled up in sleeping bags, but that just wasn't feasible. So about 10 of us packed ourselves into a six-person tent. Ah, sweet relief. I was quite amazed at the thermal effectiveness of spooning (Thank you, Caroline). I'd never done it before, but I can tell you now that it works. It'll do in a pinch. Or in a Chick-fil-A parking lot.

At 2:30am, I thought I had voluntarily checked myself into a concentraction camp. Perhaps a Russian gulag. Okay, so that's a bit historically insensitive, but humor me. They woke us from our peaceful slumber, and made us line up in the order that we registered. And they counted us. It took far too long. We had to stay until they made it to the end of the list. Did I mention the temperature? It was still teeth-chattering cold.

We were then allowed to return to our sleeping bags. Slumber is sweet relief from the cold. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I was serenaded by the thrice-repeated playing of the Braveheart soundtrack. It created a very ethereal ambience for the whole evening. Maybe they wanted us to feel like conquerers or something - William Wallaces, each of us. I've always wondered what it would have felt like to trip out to those psychedelic drugs from the '60s and '70s. Probably not unlike spooning in a parking lot to Braveheart. Probably not.

Finally, at 6am, we lined up again, and were given our official number. I ended up being #58. Slowly, the line began to move. I passed by the restaurant chain's mascot - a uniquely bipedal cow, who was, at one point during the night, in our tent. I gave him a high-five. There's just something weird about high-fiving a cleft hooved creature.

Before I knew it, I was in. The restaurant's employees were making quite a racket. They were banging pots and pans. One man was even making a joyful noise with a cow bell. You know how Japanese people go crazy over American pop icons? Walking into the restaurant, I felt Japanese. Only I was freezing my bum and wearing a funky paper hat for a chance at 52 chicken sandwiches (Did I tell you they made us put on T-shirts and wear those fold-out paper hats?). I think I might have felt better if I had been waiting in line to take a picture of Justin Timberlake or Paris Hilton on my camera phone. Actually I'm lying. I'd rather have the sandwiches. And I don't have a camera phone. At least there wasn't a stampede.

I think I learned something about myself that evening. Actually, no, I didn't. I just felt silly. But I have the last laugh. Because I have 52 coupons to Chick-fil-A sitting in my dresser drawer right now. Well, actually, I only have 50, because I ate Chick-fil-A for lunch on Friday and yesterday. (You can use the coupons whenever you want, actually. I suppose you could eat at Chick-fil-A for 52 consecutive meals. I wouldn't recommend it. You might die of peanut oil overdose.)

So, if you come to visit me, I just might treat you to a value meal at Chick-fil-A.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cowboy Up

Pictured above, from left to right: me, Steve Sellers (North Carolina), Parker Stephen, one of my roommates (Florida), Tony LeRud (Minnesota, attended Tabor in Hillsboro, KS), and Matt Esswein (SoCal).

Friday evening we rounded up the lasses and had ourselves a good ol' time at the Fall 2005 Barn Dance. We line danced. We swing danced. We even square danced. A wonderful time was had by all. We even had a square dance caller. That was a good thing, because I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to fully recall everything from my yearly square dancing unit from grade school physical education. All my fellow QH schoolmates - you know what I'm talkin' 'bout. Is it possible to dedicate a dance to someone after you do it? Well, I'd like to dedicate Friday evening's square dance to Mrs. Alber, without whose instruction all those years ago I would have approached Friday evening's festivities with much fear and trepidation. Instead, I was able to grab my partner, spin her 'round an' 'round, and even do the right-to-left grand, knowing in my heart that I was hip to be a square dancer. Mrs. Alber, to you I say, "Props."

I've been growing out my beard all semester long. It was fun while it lasted. I decided, against my better judgment, to fashion my man-whiskers into a combination of chops, a soul patch, and a fu manchu. My facial hair stylings were warmly received. Actually, I think people just felt sorry for me because I looked so ridiculous. But I'm glad I did it. You only live once, right? I hope there are barn dances in heaven.

Well, before I ski'daddle on off to bed, I'd like to recite, from memory, the words from the best half-cowboy/half-sentimental New Englander song I know. It's a gem by James Taylor, entitled "Sweet Baby James":

(not including the sentimental New Englander half of the song)

There is a young cowboy, who lives on the range
His horse and his cattle are his only companions
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons
Waiting for summer, his pastures to change

And as the moon rises he sits by his fire
Thinkin' about women and glasses of beer
And closin' his eyes as the doggies retire
He sings out a song which is soft, but it's clear
As if maybe someone could hear...

Goodnight, ya moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won't ya let me go down in my dreams
An' rock-a-bye sweet baby James

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A winter storm warning is in effect for Colorado Springs and surrounding areas...

It is now 10:33pm on October 9th, and it is snowing!!! This is definitely the earliest snow I've ever seen. They're predicting up to eight inches! I checked the forecaste for Woodland Park, a community up in the mountains, just west of the Springs, and they are supposed to receive up to two feet. This is crazy. Pikes Peak should be white for the rest of the season, I imagine. I hope this is a trend, because I really want to have some good powder to ski before I'm done here in December.

Yea for snow!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hiking Photo

Here's a pic from a hike I went on last Wednesday. It was lead by Sheryl DeWitt, our Family Life Studies professor, and Elena Thomason, the Omega section Resident Director. It was a fun hike. Bonding time, really.

I honestly don't remember the name of the trail that we were on. However, I do remember that we were on the southwest side of the Springs. As you look at the photo, you're looking east-northeast, out over the city of Colorado Springs

Here are the names of the peoples, from left to the other side (and their home states too).
Back Row: Christian (Minnesota), Me (Kansas), Betsy (New York), Diana (???), Anne Marie (Texas), Jess (Maine)
Front Row: Bethany (Florida), Charlyn (???)

Bethany was funny. She's never experienced the changing of the seasons. Crazy Floridians. She wore red leaves in her hair the whole way down the mountain. Amusing.

I'll Take a Smear & Mantle, on the Rocks, Please

Hello to my peoples.

Focus on the Family Institute is going rather well. Classes are very interesting. We have a ton of reading. But at least it's not from text books and the like. Some of the books are good. Some books are okay. No books are bad.

Please check out It's here on my blog, to the right. It's a link. Check it out.

(Insert randomness here.)

So today I went rock climbing. Two words: fan tastic. We were two staff people and three student guys. Just us five. We climbed three 5.9 routes and one of 5.10 difficulty. If you want to know what those ratings mean, don't ask me. I'd Google it, if you're into the World Wide Web and surfing. The units digit refers to the steepness and technicality of the climb. The tenths digit refers to the difficulty of the individual climb within the "5" class. 5.10 is on the verge of being difficult. I really had a confidence boost after doing the 2nd and 3rd 5.9 routes. Then I was on to the 5.10 route. It's amazing how well those silly little flat-soled climbing shoes - that make you feel truly sorry for all those Chinese women who were forced to have their feet bound back in the day - will adhere themselves to a ledge that's only 1/4 of an inch wide. (Sorry for the insentive historical reference. It's the only way to describe the way those shoes make your feet feel.) And I got to learn cool words like "smear" and "mantle." I love new words. Smearing is when you don't really have a foothold, so you put your weight on a relateively vertical and smooth place on the rock. This creates enough friction that, considering you balance correctly and don't move too quickly, you can manage to get to your next hold. Google "mantel." It's too hard to explain, but I can do it. My advice to any aspiring climber (because I'm so good and have lot's of advice to give) is to trust your footholds more than you think is prudent. The shoes really work. And use your legs. Every other time I've gone climbing, my forearms just kill me. I use them too much to support my body. But this time, because I really used my legs mostly, my forearms felt like money. I really think that if I were to stay out here in CO for very long, I would really get into the whole rock climbing scene.

So remember. Go climbing. Use your legs.

And check out, because as our motto says:

"It puts the 'orldvi' back in 'Worldview' "

Monday, September 19, 2005

Practicum Assignment. Yesssssss.

Today I received my Practicum assignment here at the Institute. If you don't know what practicum is, you are alone. I mean you're not alone, or whatever. Think internship. That makes things easier. Anywhoodle...

I have been assigned to work with the editors of a web site called Everyone, especially you college students who are cool and check my blog and go to web sites, should check it out. It's all about being a Christian on a college campus. You will find a message board called the "Coffee Shop," and lots of sweet articles by the people who are going to be my bosses. In time, you may even find an article or seven by yours truly. I don't mean to brag, but they must like my skills. (If you keep in mind that as I'm creating this post, I'm talking out loud in a Napoleon Dynamite voice, you'll think I'm much less pompous than you might otherwise).

I am pretty excited about my assignment. I'm looking forward to working with people who are excellent, hilarious, and thought provoking writers. Though I believe God has gifted me with the ability to write and communicate, getting myself to do it is like pulling teeth, and He hasn't gifted me with the ability to enjoy having my teeth pulled, despite three and a half years of braces. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for foregoing the addition to the garage to finance my dental rearrangement. I appreciate it.)

So, check out It's scrumtroulescent.

p.s. Keep checking for updates. I should be posting a picture or two from my hike this past weekend. I climbed two 14ers in one day. And I'm still sore today. This 22-year-old body just isn't made to take that sort of beating. I'm getting old.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Meteorological magic

I love the weather here in Colorado. The high today was 65 degrees, which occurred sometime shortly after noon. At about 3:30pm, a storm rolled in. While friends and I, including one of our professors, were hiking in a canyon on the west side of town, clouds engulfed Pikes Peak. On our drive back to the Institute, the clouds parted, and I was the first to notice, and had the pleasure of bringing others' attention to a significant dusting of snow on the mountains. It was a glorious sight to behold. The storm moved off the mountain in a few hours, leaving us with a beautiful sunset. For now, my verbal bumblings and your own imagination will have to suffice in producing a picture of the beautiful scene that we all beheld this evening.

With the cool weather we've been having, the aspens should be turning soon...